INCR 1968(LP), INCD 1968 (CD)
WHIL [Boston MA] 1953 - "Al Bennett"
WEAM [Washington DC] 1958
WMEX [Boston] 1959 - "Dan Donovan"
WCAO [Baltimore MD] 1961
WEAM [Washington] 1965
WCAO [Baltimore] 1966
WWMX [Baltimore] 1992
WMEX [Boston] 1960
WBIG-FM [Washington DC] 1993
Where is he now?
Doing "Dial-A-Hit, Washington's only local all request oldies show!", on Oldies WBIG-FM, Washington D.C.


1968 - the year it all came together or the year it all came apart, depending on your point of view. The reality is that either point of view would be unnecessarily one sided; for if the year 1968 can be summed up at all, it is as a catalystic year of cathartic national and international change.

The year was one of astounding energy, vitality and change. More happened in that year than has happened in entire decades, and to much greater effect. It was in 1968 that the Tet offensive in Saigon doomed forver the political rightness of America's participation in Vietnam. Large segments of the American public, together with the still-uncontrolled media forces and ever-growing pockets of the country's elected representatives protested and condemned the increasing bloody illegality of the war. There was protest and rioting in the streets, and much of a similar nature behind the increasingly isolated walls of the Pentagon. On March 31, Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not run for re-election, acknowledging his failure and inability to deal with the situation at hand. This was no more evident as when peace candidate Eugene McCarthy won 42% of the votes in the New Hampshire Democratic primary.

Within a week after Johnson's announcement, freedom leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by an assassin's bullet as he spoke of peace and love at a Memphis hotel. Two months later the hopes of Americans longing for intelligent and compassionate leadership were dashed when Democratic presidential hopeful (and probable winner) Robert F. Kennedy was felled by an assassin's bullet after making a speech in Los Angeles. This series of events culminated in the savage spectacle of the Chicago Police Department, under the (mis)guidance of Mayor Richard Daley, coming on like the Nazi gestapo at their most violent, gassing, clubbing and beating citizens who were gathered to protest the war and make their views known. Within the convention halls Senator Ribicoff denounced the "gestapo tactics" of the police, as Daley responded with a scream of obcenities and ethnic slurs that put an end to a century of backroom politics.

The deaths of King and Kennedy brought about the rapid erosion of idealism as well, as the body politic became more fractionalized, and those who had espoused "peace and love" began to imitate their oppressors with equally blatant shows of violence and non-understanding. This was a time when anything could, and much did, happen.

Internationally things were nearly as chaotic, with student protestors almost bringing down the DeGaulle government in France singlehandedly, and the Soviets invading Czechoslovakia to end Prague Spring and dash hopes of a free and healthy eastern European community. The result of this chaos left Americans with hand-me-down President Nixon, who sevreal years earlier was washed up and couldn't even win a local California election, and the loss of a dream of political change.

While Nixon's 1968 win dashed the revolutionary dreams of a generation, in small ways, and some large ways, personal and artistic freedoms expanded dramatically and forever changed the face of America. For the first time large pockets of artists and public both ignored the restrictions of the past, and freedom of expression in lifestyle and art became the order of the day. As our political heroes fell and demagogues replaced them, we learned to become our own heroes. Television broke through old restrictive barriers to conservatively embrace the counter-culture with such shows as "Laugh-In" and "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour". Best of all, CBS aired "The Prisoner," starring and created by British actor Patrick McGoohan, which incisively and entertainingly gave us a hard look at dangers of big brotherdom and mind control.

Films were just beginning to break free of old-fashioned constraints, and while independent film makers such as Roger Corman dealt with reality in such low-budget programmers as "The Trip" and "Wild In The Streets", the last bastion of old fashioned Hollywood continued to churn out fodder for the comatose. Ex-patriate American director Stanley Kubrick made the most significant contribution to the new era with "2001: A Space Odyssey", a film easily understood by and relevant to the younger generation, and unintelligible to the masses weaned on "Andy Hardy" films.

Musically the year was profound, with some of the most exciting music in history being created, much of it inspired directly by the seeds of revolution in the streets. The Beatles created their(arguably) finest hour with the release of the double "White Album". Bob Dylan, wisely knowing he had scored with political and social rage in recent years, tried to bring people back together with an album of religious and moral parable, "John Wesley Harding". The album was highly successful, although it had no apparent social effect, unlike his groundbreakers of the previous five years. Artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, Steppenwolf, Stevie Wonder, Cream and James Brown, among dozens of others, were at the height of their creative powers. The year found artists of all persuasions sharing the charts. Perhaps never before, and never since, has there been such a comfortable gathering of musical styles from both black and white artists sharing the charts.

1968 was a year when you could tune into Top 40 ratings burner WCAO in Baltimore and hear a mix of sounds in an average day that ranged from The Beatles to Otis Redding to The Doors to Percy Sledge to Steppenwolf to Glen Campbell. This was not an era for labels and pigeonholing. It was an era of free musical expression, and everyone was welcome aboard for the greatest creative musical explosion of the modern era. At WCAO, Baltimore listeners heard it all and more, as the station, guided by Number One Dee-Jay Johnny Dark took the lead in exposing this vast array of musical treasures to our ears. Dark was a leader, not a follower, and WCAO was a key station, not only in 1968 but throughout the 1960's in breaking new artists and new records. The expression "You heard it first here on WCAO" was really the truth, and at WCAO one could hear it all. When you wanted to hear what was new that week, whether it was psychedelic Bay area rock or Memphis soul, WCAO was the place to be.

As much as music spoke of the times and reflected them in 1968, it was equally as a means to take us away from everyday realities for three or four minutes, and often the best recordings managed to do that very well. For all the political prosletizing that came wrapped in the guise of entertainment, the best remembered and loved records were infused with a sense of life and hope, rather than a sense of death and despair. This is reflected in the selection of top chart records from 1968 as brought to you here by award winning DJ Johnny Dark.

The Box Tops, featuring Alex Chilton, followed their first smash "The Letter" with an even better example of blue-eyed Muscle Shoals soul, "Cry Like A Baby". Written and produced by top soul producer-writers Dan Penn and Chips Moman, The Box Tops were the epitome of blue-eyed Southern soul. No one did it better before or since, and the Box Tops recordings were equally at home on both the pop and r&b charts. Dissention split the group in 1970, but Chilton is still active, and the group has been a major influence on many contemporary artists.

Marvin Gaye, ex-backup singer with The Moonglows, became one of Berry Gordy's earliest stars, beginning in 1962 with hits like "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "Hitchhike". By 1968 Gaye was as much the king of the city soul sound, as Otis Redding was of Southern soul, and both found themselves topping both the pop and r&b charts. Gaye had his biggest hit to date in the Number One smash, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", previously a hit for Gladys Knight and The Pips (also on Motown). Gaye's version was recorded before Knight's, but was held back. In spite of the success of Knight's recording, Gaye's version was deemed sufficiently different and strong enough to make it. Perhaps even Gaye and Gordy were surprised as it rocketed to Number One and stayed there for weeks.

The "bad boys" of L.A. rock, Steppenwolf, were a cross between acid-rock and biker-punk. In those days, however, no one assigned such irrelevant labels, so they were merely hardcore rock and roll. "Born To Be Wild" became their first monster hit, and it was followed by another just as big, "Magic Carpet Ride". "Magic Carpet Ride" was one of those examples of single versions of a very long album track becoming a smash single with extended solos edited out. Pop buyers bought the single, "heads" bought the album, and everybody was happy all the way around.

Back in Memphis, Chips Moman took a chance on a new white girl singer who sang with a hearty dose of soul and innocence and wrote some exceptional tunes. Her first recording became her biggest, as Merrilee Rush will be forever remembered for the beautiful and honest "Angel Of The Morning". The song has been recut many times, most notably by Juice Newton, but Rush's 1968 original remains the definitive version of an exceptional song.

Curtis Mayfield had singlehandedly created a revolution in soul music in Chicago, with his spare and upbeat songs and productions for his own group, The Impressions as well as artists like Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Major Lance and many others. The O'Kaysions adopted that spare, almost under produced upbeat sound for their only smash, "Girl Watcher". One of the catchiest and happiest songs of the year, it proved to be a last gasp for that spare r & b sound, as producers bogged their artists down with more and more heavy-handed overproduction.

Bobby Goldsboro was an unprepossessing writer-guitarist-singer who received his start as a member of hitmaker Roy Orbison's band, The Candymen. Orbison was always the type to encourage his fellow artists rather than consider them competition, and it was at Orbison's urging that Goldsboro struck out on his own. He achieved a string of hits throughout the 1960's, all recorded in Nashville, and many self-penned. His biggest hit was the Number One "Honey", one of the great tear-jerker ballads of all time, written for him by his friend Bobby Russell, who was a successful Nashville writer at that time. "Honey" proved to be the biggest success ever for both, proving that a three-minute soap opera sung with feeling could still reach the top of the charts even in this "enlightened" era.

The Classics IV, featuring Dennis Yost, were discovered by Atlanta record man Bill Lowery, who also discovered such talents as Joe South, Ray Stevens and Mac Davis. Yost had a unique delivery, and his material fell into an ambivalent place somewhere between pop balladry and rhythm and blues. "Spooky" became one of 1968's biggest hits, and was followed by an even bigger hit, "Traces". Yost split from the group after that success, and as often happens, neither entity was successful on their own. Nevertheless, the group's two-year hit legacy is still well remembered and well loved for its uniqueness and soul.

1968 was one of Motown's biggest years, but then virtually every year in the 1960's was rich with hits from the Detroit hit factory. "I Wish It Would Rain" became one of The Temptations' biggest-ever hits, a chain that began in the early 1960's with classics like "My Girl" and "Get Ready". "Rain" was one of the first Motown records to show the influence of acid rock on its patented Motown sound, and was the precursor for such forthcoming Temptaions groundbreakers as "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and "Psychedelic Shack". The group was at the peak of its power with David Ruffin on lead and they never sounded better.

The Grassroots were a slick L.A. pop group who scored an astounding number of smash hits, all produced by Steve Barri and that "Eve Of Destruction" man, P. F. Sloan. Ironically, their biggest hit was the only one that didn't belong originally to them. A Chicago group called Evergreen Blues wrote and recorded the original version of "Midnight Confessions". Producer Barri lifted the arrangement, both vocal and instrumental, and re-created the recording with The Grassroots. While both versions sounded almost identical (with an edge on soul to The Evergreen Blues), this was an example of name value taking the prize, as The Grassroots scored a smash and Evergreen Blues slid quickly into obscurity. "Midnight Confessions" remains an exciting record, and one of the best the group ever made.

The Supremes became Diana Ross and the Supremes, as the leading lady prepared for her solo exit. Before she left her former friends behind, the group recorded some of their finest records, with producers Holland-Dozier-Holland at the helm. Reflecting the social consciousness of the era, "Love Child" dealt with a real situation in an intelligent manner, and was extremely groundbreaking and controversial in 1968. Not only did the record have a message, but you could dance to it, attesting to the unlimited talent of the Motown writer-producers of the era. "Love Child" became a major hit, and its success encouraged more black artists to record material of a more realistic and daring nature.

By the end of 1968 we were getting close to a moon landing as Apollo 11 circled the moon, and Woodstock was just around the corner. But that's another story, best left for Harv Moore on Cruisin' 1969.
-Robert Scherl.

CRUISIN' THE FIFTIES & SIXTIES: A History of Rock and Roll Radio. Conceived by: Ron Jacobs/Executive Producer: Howard Silvers/All selections are the original performances, as released on the following labels: ABC (Steppenwolf, The Grassroots (both ABC Dunhill), The O'Kaysions); Bell (Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts, The Box Tops); Imperial (Dennis Yost & The Classics IV); Motown (Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations); and United Artists (Bobby Goldsboro). Art Direction: Laura Garza. Illustration: Mike Royer.

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